[Up front caveat: Fox has decided they don’t want me seeing their
movies at press screenings anymore, so they have quit inviting me. As a
result, I paid to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine this afternoon. I only
mention that as a form of full disclosure; while I don’t believe my Fox
blacklisting had any impact on my opinion of the movie, you may believe
otherwise and I don’t want to hide it from you.]

To quote David St. Hubbins from the immortal band Spinal Tap, ‘It’s
such a fine line between stupid and clever.’ X-Men Origins: Wolverine
rarely threatens to cross that line into clever, instead
being content to remain fairly stupid, mostly formless and endlessly

How stupid is X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Here’s an example that the most
sensitive among you might find spoilery: After Logan, our hero, has had
his bones laced with the super-indestructible metal adamantium (in an
attempt to make him a completely indestructible weapon) he hears that
the military guys who did it to him want to erase his memory. He freaks
out and escapes; they chase him. The military sends Agent Zero, a
mutant whose power (near as I can tell) is shooting real good.
Wolverine kills the shit out of this guy; we cut to the military HQ
where the bad guys are chatting about how the only way to possibly stop
Wolverine is to shoot him with special adamantium bullets. Which are
sitting there in the base. Which never went out in the gun of the guy
whose mutant power is shooting people really good. That’s pretty stupid.

I don’t know that the movie ever really stood a chance. I don’t know
what Wolverine cost, but that budget is not on screen (unless that
budget was south of 80 million). The FX in the movie often look
distractingly unfinished (and no, this is not a review of the
work print, which I never saw); there’s a scene where Wolverine is first
experimenting with his new metal claws where the blades look actually
hand drawn. A film like this – with a dozen mutants each displaying
mildly different powers, with each mutant having some variation of a
power which turns them into a digital stunt man who does fake looking
leaps at impossible speeds – needs to pump cash into the FX work. While
there are some moments that look pretty good – a collapsing nuclear
power plant cooling tower doesn’t look quite real but it does look cool
in a video game cut scene way – many of the special effects scenes scream ‘green screen!’ or ‘digital
stuntman!’ or ‘I rendered this on an Amiga!’

Strike two is the source material; I’ll own up to admitting that I
think the Origin miniseries, where it was revealed that Wolverine
began life as a poncey little twerp in Canada in the 1800s, was among
the hugest miscalculations in the history of comic book storytelling.
Setting aside the fact that laying this information out utterly robbed
the character of any mystery (look to Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X as
a great way to keep the mystery while revealing more information), the
basic conceit was just awful. Little Lord Wolverine isn’t compelling,
he’s embarrassing.

And the movie opens with that. And it’s among the film’s most
interesting moments! In fact, for the first twenty minutes – or what
the movie considers the prologue – I thought it was possible that X-Men
Origins: Wolverine
had a shot at being the second or third best X-Men
film. I liked the way the credits tell the history of Logan and his
brother Victor as a series of movie guest starring spots: first they
appear in Glory, then they make a cameo in Gallipoli, then they storm
the beach at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan and then Victor tries
to rape a girl in Casualties of War. That was cute.

There’s some more stuff – the two brothers join a secret strike force
led by Danny Huston, playing a larval form of Brian Cox’s X2 character,
and populated with a group of wacky mutants who trot the globe doing
secret strike force stuff. But after Wolverine (who, by the way, has
not yet gotten his code name. He will acquire it later in a wincingly
goofy way) leaves that group, the movie just falls apart. Strike three!

I won’t go into a detailed plot description, especially since there
essentially is none. The movie seems to be based on the concept of
comic book covers – the film is made up of a series of shots of Hugh
Jackman striking poses, many of them campily delightful (it’s worth
noting that some of the poses actually look nice and would make nice
screen shots/comic covers. There are a number of shots, though, where
Jackman’s hair looks amazingly ridiculous. I mean, laugh out loud
hilarious. I got a Zucker Bros vibe off his ‘do more than once). It
also includes two scenes where Wolverine looks up at the camera and
shouts ‘Noooo!’ as it zooms away from him. I thought McG (McG!) killed
that in the Charlie’s Angels movie. If only Jackman had shouted
‘Mendozaaaaaa!’ it would have become meta and interesting (and
prescient, as the entire film is set in a poorly defined late 70s/early
80s). When action does break out, it just looks silly. There’s a scene
where Wolverine is clawing through a fire escape that seems sped up for
madcap laughs. Another has Wolverine walking away from a green screen
which has been completely filled with fire from an explosion – it looks
like a parody of a dumb 80s action movie poster. And every time Liev
Schreiber’s Sabretooth starts leaping around like a cat I just wondered
why he wasn’t wearing his Rum Tum Tugger outfit. Oh, by the way,
speaking of leaping like a cat, I counted at least four scenes where
Wolverine and Sabretooth start running at each other from a distance. I
think in three of them Sabretooth drops to all fours. In none of them does this look cool.

I feel bad for Schreiber; was there a previous version of the script
where Sabretooth had something to do other than leap around on all
fours? There’s an intriguing concept here about how these two
brothers, who are together through war after war for a hundred years,
come to very different places as men. Sabretooth embraces his animal
side while Wolverine wants to transcend it; there’s a movie there.
Instead that concept is left for the end of this film, as a way of
explaining why Sabretooth is still alive for X-Men (although there’s no
explanation for why he’s Tyler Mane in that one). Honestly, the film’s
prologue should have been the entire film – it would have given Schreiber
something to do, it would have created some actual conflict on a
personal level between Wolverine and Sabretooth (the extent of their
conflict, by the way, is revealed to be that Victor is mad that Logan
went off and got a girlfriend) and it would have meant that the movie
was rooted in some kind of discernible time period, since the two
brothers fight in just about every major war of the last 100 years (I
can’t believe they didn’t get a scene of Wolverine charging San Juan
Hill with Teddy Roosevelt in there).

I don’t feel bad for Hugh Jackman, though. As a producer on this film
he must have had some control, and instead of making a movie about
Wolverine, he made a movie about a character with a similar hairstyle.
If anything, this Wolverine feels like he comes after X3; he’s a toned
down, sort of lame version of the character. Many of his established
skills and abilities are utterly glossed over – a crucial plot point
crumbles when you realize that Wolverine would likely be able to smell
the difference between someone who was really dead and someone who had
been drugged to appear dead (which was stolen from an episode of
Gilligan’s Island, by the way. I demand Sherwood Schwartz get a writing
credit!). Part of the appeal of a Wolverine origin movie should be
seeing him before the civilizing effects of Professor X et al; this
movie makes the argument that the dude was actually always pretty
civilized, he just forgot it when he lost his memory.

Oh, and the memory loss. I won’t spoil it for you (and the fact that he
loses his memory isn’t a spoiler, obviously), but I will say that it is
among the worst plot contrivances in modern film history. One imagines
that any story ideas for a movie that’s a prequel to the first X-Men
must hatch from one place: at the end of the movie Wolverine has to
lose his memory. You would reverse engineer your story from that point.
You figure out how he loses his memory, and you do it in a good and
dramatic way, not in a tossed off bit of nonsense that even soap opera
fans, well known for their acceptance of the most idiotic explanations
for amnesia, could stomach. I honestly think that the mechanism by
which the script lazily makes Wolverine amnesiac will become an in-joke
for movie nerds for years to come.

All of that bad stuff aside, the movie does have one strong point: it’s
low in hardcore prequelitis. Part of that is surely because many of the
‘prequel’ elements which this film uses were established in the comics
and incorporated into the previous X-Men films. There are a couple of
painful bits where the movie goes out of its way to show where
Wolverine got something important, like his code name (again, so lame),
but that’s kept to a minimum. Even the appearance of a young Cyclops is
handled with some relative grace (not so graceful is a cameo by an
important X-Men character at the end, seemingly appearing in 16 bit
form. I think they took some footage from an SNES X-Men game to have
this character appear). And director Gavin Hood does give us some
iconic imagery, even though it’s ultimately never in the service of any
sort of story or anything. And the film does allow us to see a
naked man jump off a 300 foot waterfall.

As bad as X-Men Origins: Wolverine is, and it’s pretty bad, it’s also
strangely watchable. I found myself howling with laughter on many
occasions (why does the guy who young Wolverine thinks is his dad look
JUST LIKE Hugh Jackman if we’re going to find out that’s not really his
dad about 79 seconds later?), and I never even remotely came to care
about anything that was happening on screen (which I think was the
point. If anybody involved in the movie wanted me to care, they would
have included at least one actual character, right?), but I also never
felt like getting up and walking out. By the end of the film it’s
obvious that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the single worst film in the
whole franchise, but at least it didn’t leave me wishing for amnesia

5 out of 10